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Johann STRAUSS II (1825 – 1899)
Fürstin Ninetta Operetta in three acts (Complete in German without dialogue) (1893)
Tua Åberg (soprano) – Ninetta Campocasso; Elin Rombo (soprano) – Anastasia Knapp  (Ferdinand’s mother); Henriikka Gröndahl (soprano) – Adelheid Möbius; Jesper Taube (baritone) – Cassim Pascha; Lord Plato; Fredrik Strid (tenor) – Ferdinand Knapp; Göran Eliasson (tenor) – Prosper Möbius (Adelheid’s father); Ola Eliasson (baritone) – Baron Mörsburg; Samuel Jarrick (baritone) – Emilio; Consul Rübke; Michael Axelsson (tenor) – Wirth (Landlord); Anders Blom (tenor) – Quästor (Arbiter); Kristina Martling (contralto) – Rustan (Cassim’s servant); Katarina Wedin-Nilsson (soprano) – Laura
Ninetta Chorus; Stockholm Strauss Orchestra/Valéria Csányi
rec. Live, Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, Sweden, 7 October 2007
The German libretto can be accessed at the Naxos website
NAXOS 8.660227-28 [58:03 + 45:12]
Experience Classicsonline

Premiered in January 1893 Ninetta, Strauss’s twelfth operetta, was quite a success, running for 76 performances at the Theater an der Wien. It was also staged by a dozen other theatres in the Austrian Empire but after 1905 it was not given again. To quote the liner-notes: ‘Sleeping Beauty slept a hundred years, Fürstin Ninetta for 102.’
 
This is a fate that has fallen upon most of his sixteen operettas. Die Fledermaus is practically the only one that is regularly played although Der Zigeunerbaron and Eine Nacht in Venedig also pop up now and then. The reason for the neglect is hardly musical but the choice of librettos has often been called in question. In the case of Ninetta Strauss is only partly to blame since he only authorised the plot and the lyrics, not the dialogue. When he was present at the first dress rehearsal he was reportedly surprised by the dialogue, which he found completely at odds with his music. ‘This libretto does not need any music at all’, was his comment. In consequence, the present recording, taken from a concert performance at Berwaldhallen, the concert hall of the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra, omits all the spoken dialogue.
 
The story is filled with misunderstandings and complications but everything is sorted out in the end and the young lovers, Adelheid and Ferdinand, are free to marry. But they are a secondary couple anyway. It is the Russian-born princess Ninetta, widow of an Italian prince, and the Turkish hypnotist Cassim Pascha, who are the central characters. Ninetta’s passion is to dress as a man and during the proceedings of the operetta, which plays at a beach-hotel in Sorrento, Italy, she appears in several disguises, which in its turn leads the guests to believe, in the finale of act II, that Cassim has murdered five different people. This is also cleared up before the last curtain-fall and everybody lives happily ever after, Prosper Möbius is so happy that he indulges in some yodelling.
 
So much for the story. The music is in the main out of Strauss’s top drawer. There is a short march-like overture that at once evokes that special Straussian tingle factor. The introduction scene, with splendid choral writing further enhances the feel-fine factor. There are solos for the main characters: Ferdinand, Ninetta and Cassim. There are some duets and several ensembles, notably the two extended finales to act I and II. The latter is one of Strauss’s finest creations, not only for the marvellous melodies but even more for the dramatic tension and some contrapuntal writing for the chorus. In addition we are treated to illustrative orchestral effects and a dark operatic doomsday atmosphere before the murders are sorted out one by one. Ninetta’s long solo, with its melismatic opening, should be a fine showpiece at any solo recital.
 
The separate solos and duets are also memorable, perhaps finest of all Cassim’s waltz Einst träumte mir (CD 2 tr. 6). This is followed by a children’s ballet, accompanied by Neue Pizzicato Polka, Op. 449, which was composed by Strauss in the spring of 1892, long before he finished the operetta. It is exquisitely played here, as is the rest of the music. The Stockholm Strauss Orchestra was founded in 1992 and its fifty players are drawn from all the major orchestras in Stockholm. It has the original Wiener Johann Strauss-Capelle as its model. They play all kinds of music and have a repertoire of more than 1200 works. Judging by this recording they are devoted to the music of Strauss. The members of the Ninetta Chorus were handpicked for this production by the chorus-master Bo Wannefors from the Swedish Radio Choir and the Choir of the People’s Opera (Folkoperan). Rarely if ever do we encounter such ravishing choral singing in operetta.
 
Among the soloists Jesper Taube’s Cassim stands out as a superb operetta charmer: manly, warm of voice, with the right operetta lilt and expressive with words. I have seen and heard him a number of times, most recently his excellent Dandini in Stockholm’s La Cenerentola less than a year ago (see review). His singing here surpasses everything I have heard. Almost on a par with him is Tua Åberg as Ninetta. She has been a leading coloratura for quite some time now – I first heard her while she was still a student at the University College of Opera in Stockholm and thought then that she had something of Toti Dal Monte about her. The agility and the pinpoint accuracy at the top are still there as is the beauty of tone, even though it has hardened slightly. She is however superb in her chanson in act II (CD 2 tr. 2) – a lovely song! - as she is in the preceding long hypnotising duet with Cassim (CD 2 tr. 1).
 
Fredrik Strid and Henriikka Gröndahl as the young couple, Ferdinand and Adelheid, have agreeable voices, though they take some time to warm up. Ferdinand’s mother and Adelheid’s father Elin Rombo and Göran Eliasson are excellent. I had reason to praise Ms Rombo quite recently when reviewing the world premiere of Sven-David Sandström’s opera Batseba (see review). Ola Eliasson and Samuel Jarrick also make good impressions.
 
The recording engineer is Gert Palmcrantz, which for many years has been a guarantee of excellent sound. Distant applause is heard at end of acts and after some numbers. The German libretto can be downloaded but here I have to issue a warning: it is printed in old German type, which I suppose can pose problems to at least younger readers. Still it heightens the experience to be able to understand the essentials of the plot and who is singing what. What counts most of all is however the music. I think every lover of Strauss II or operetta in general should hear this. It is hardly likely that there will be an opportunity to catch any other performance of this work nor another recording of it. This one gives a worthy representation of this delectable score.
 
Göran Forsling
 

 


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